Originally published in Globe and Mail Blog
Posted on Friday, June 17
John Weekes, a senior business adviser at Bennett Jones LLP, was
Canada's ambassador to the WTO and chief negotiator for the
Now that the Conservative government of Stephen Harper has
promised to move forward with its "strong and ambitious Free
Trade Agreement agenda," it is time to reflect on how this
agenda will interact with the changing nature of manufacturing in
The new dynamic manufacturing ventures in Canada appear to be
relatively small compared with many traditional enterprises. But
they are nimble and entrepreneurial -- these are not projects which
resemble earlier champions. Rather, the renaissance in the sector
is being driven by individuals with experience and knowledge of
where opportunities exist and who possess the energy to turn vision
into reality. These entrepreneurs need a predictable environment of
rules in which to operate.
These developing success stories reveal the seamless interaction
of goods production, services, investment, regulatory rules,
intellectual property, and education and experience. In fact, what
has been called the "trade agreements agenda" should
really be renamed the "international business agenda".
Certainly the issues now go well beyond what laymen, or even many
ministers, consider to be "trade" -- still largely
synonymous with the export and import of physical goods.
Canadian negotiators need to be alert to the importance of
building rules designed to foster production in the era of global
In negotiating these agreements, it will be important for the
government to consult closely with the new producers to get a solid
understanding of the sorts of foreign barriers and practices that
ought to be disciplined. To allow burgeoning industries to reach
their full potential the government will need to understand the
practical problems they face in the international market place.
Some of these problems may be ones that can be resolved at the
negotiating table. For instance, the U.S. has made major progress
through negotiations at improving foreign market access for
"remanufactured goods," which were being classified as
"used goods" and often faced high duties or even import
Many companies that produce such goods, like Caterpillar, are
completely refurbishing expensive pieces of machinery that
deteriorate relatively quickly under rugged operating conditions.
The remanufactured product even gets the same guarantee as a new
product -- and the whole process is environmentally friendly. By
getting agreement to place these goods under a new tariff
classification, both manufactures and consumers have benefited. But
the issue would never have reached the negotiating table if
business hadn't made negotiators aware of this very specific
Negotiators need these sorts of inputs urgently, as Canada is
now in the midst of several free-trade negotiations with major
partners, notably: the EU, India, South Korea, and Ukraine. Equally
important are the perimeter security and regulatory co-operation
negotiations with the U.S. initiated by Mr. Harper and President
Barack Obama in February. These latter negotiations hold the key to
reversing the thickening of the border which has been so damaging to
the manufacturing sector.
Substantial negotiations are also in prospect with several other
major global players, including Japan and, in a somewhat longer
time frame, with China and Mercosur (the bloc that includes Brazil,
Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay).
The agreements, which the Harper government negotiates over the
next four or five years, will set the trade rules for a generation.
Let's make sure they take into account the challenges faced by
Canada's cutting edge manufacturing enterprises.
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